It appears, like most of Britain’s wildlife, the UK’s Hedgehog population is in decline. As a young child growing up, most of my annual holidays were spent playing and working on a relative’s farm in West Wales. Being a ‘townie’, my uncle was always very keen to teach me the Country Code, and I guess that’s where the love of wildlife I still have today, stems from.
Another British Species in Rapid Decline:
From this time of year onward, especially in the south where it’s a bit warmer, hedgehogs are already beginning to stir from their winter’s hibernation. But how many will be seen this year, it’s been estimated, over the last ten years, the UK’s hedgehog population has declined by a third, and that’s a big drop for any species.
With so much of their natural habitat disappearing, hedgehogs have over the years, adapted more and more to life in the suburbs. A somewhat secretive, nocturnal animal, whenever we’re out in the evening, they will occasionally be seen scurrying across a road, or heard grunting as they forage in the hedgerows for food. They will also forage in our gardens, and that is where we can do our bit toward maintaining this interesting, harmless little creature.
Why your Garden can Make a Difference:
Hedgehogs can do a lot of good in the garden. They feed on slugs, beetles, insects, and other invertebrates considered garden pests. No matter what your garden is like, within reason, providing somewhere so the hog can get in and out is the most important thing. Many people these days erect panel fencing as a garden boundary, effectively blocking any way a hedgehog can enter.
You may well wonder what difference your small garden will make. Consider this, it is estimated there are some 15 million gardens in the UK, covering over 270,000 hectares (over 1,000 sq miles). That equates to an area larger than all the National wildlife parks in the UK put together. Each householder doing just a little, to attract wildlife, would make a massive difference to the decline of so many wildlife species.
A hedgehog’s Story:
On one side of my garden I had a large concrete shed. Divided down the centre one half was a garden tool shed and in the other half I constructed a small raised inside aviary which joined onto a 10’ aviary built outside the shed. Beneath this small aviary I slid an old kitchen unit sitting flush with the aviary and having a 12” gap at the back and 18” gap on one side. This cupboard was used to store bird seed, nets, and various supplements for the birds.
One winter, on giving the shed its bi-annual sweep through (this was my domain not the wife’s); I discovered a hedgehog, wrapped in dead leaves and plastic bags, hibernating in the corner behind the cupboard.
Carefully replacing the cupboard so as not to disturb the hog I finished up in the shed, and as always left the door ajar thus maintaining the outside temperature. The months passed and Winter turned to Spring, in mid-April I thought I’d check on the hedgehog. It had woken and gone. I had designed my garden for minimum maintenance. On two levels, it was totally slabbed with raised and flat borders around the edges, and various pots dotted about for summer flowers. Nowhere for a hedgehog to find much food or hide but it could at least commute between the gardens on either side and the one at the bottom.
My Single Hog Becomes a Mum:
The hog went out of my mind until sometime in the August when my wife said she had seen not one but two hedgehogs in the garden, and during the daytime. At first I said it must be the same one moving about, but she was quite adamant, plus one was much smaller than the other. She suddenly pointed into the garden.
As if on cue not two, but five hogs were wandering amongst the pots. The shed had become a home, and the hibernator had four babies in tow. Well, the next hour would have won us 250GBP on “You’ve Been Framed” if I had videoed it. The floor of the shed was some 3” higher than the garden slabs. After mum’s tour of the garden she decided it was time to return to the shed.
Up the step she climbed, then turned round for the little hogs. Number one stretched up on hind legs trying to grasp the top, lost his balance and toppled over in a backward roll. They all proceeded to do this losing grip, toppling backwards then going back for another go, we were in stitches, (UK slang for much laughter), watching them. Slowly one, then another, finally managed to get some grip on the concrete and pull themselves into the shed to disappear behind the cupboard. After a bit of feeding research I put some soft, mashed up dog food in a heavy glass ashtray, and placed it a couple of feet inside the shed, to supplement the meagre rations they’d find in the garden.
The Hogs Feeding Habits cause Concern – with The Neighbours:
Arriving home from work on these sunny August afternoons I would refill the empty food bowl and sit quietly, (with the usual cuppa), on the edge of the step and wait for mum to come out to feed. Three or four minutes would go by until the aroma of dinner reached her nest then slowly and warily she would emerge to make her way to the food.
This routine was repeated over the ensuing days, baby hogs now also materialising to feed from the trough, every time I placed the new supply of food a few inches closer to the entrance and myself, sitting watching. The hedgehogs slowly but surely coming closer and less worried, until in the end, I could slowly stretch out my arm and mum would sniff my hand before resuming dinner. (Dr Doolittle, who’s he?)
While this process continued, I noticed one day the ashtray was not in the shed but sitting on the garden slabs by the entrance. Initially I didn’t think much of it, maybe one of the kids had moved it, or had accidently kicked it over the small step. However, this became a daily event, every day the ashtray would be sitting below the step to the shed. After consuming the nights refill mother must have pushed the ashtray out of the shed with her snout to clatter on the slabs 3” below; as much as to say, “Empty, time for a refill.” And so the process continued for a couple of weeks, refill in shed, empty tray in the garden.
One week-end as I pottered around the garden I was chatting to our friends and neighbours over the garden fence when their daughter, thirteen, came over and started moaning to mum about space for moving all her stuff from the back bedroom to her brothers front bedroom, he was moving to hers.
I looked enquiringly at mum, “Oh she’s got a bee in her bonnet about a ghost or spirit wandering about the garden at night”, said mum, dad stood there nodding. “For the last fortnight she’s been hearing something clattering onto the concrete in the middle of the night, but when she looks out there’s never anybody or anything there; she pee’d me off so much with it the other night, I even came out and walked around the garden to prove there was nothing there. But she won’t have it, so we’ve said she can move to the front bedroom.” I started to smile and both looked at me and said together “Is it you?”
“No” I said laughing, and explained what the spirit in the garden really was. The move was cancelled, and a couple of beers materialised from their fridge…… too toast the exorcism.
A British expat who has lived on this Island of Tenerife for over twelve years.A full time freelance writer, most of my time is spent article writing. I also write on D2C, Writedge, and wherever takes my fancy. For fun I try to increase my portfolio of short stories, with a view to eventually getting them published.